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Jewish World Review / May 15, 1998 / 19 Iyar, 5758

Mona Charen

Mona Charen

Look out feminists: here comes the true backlash

IN 1991, SUSAN FALUDI wrote a heralded book titled Backlash. The title said it all. America resented strong women -- Hillary Clinton would later become the totem of this belief -- and would do everything possible to thwart women's progress.

Well, there is a backlash against feminism, but Faludi missed it. It is not to be found among the corporate, government or academic elite -- feminism enjoys a stranglehold on those institutions. And it isn't to be found among men. The voice of anti-feminism is a female voice. In January 1999, Danielle Crittenden, editor of the Women's Quarterly, will publish What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us an analysis of the way feminism has steered women into unhappiness.

And already on the shelves is F. Carolyn Graglia's Domestic Tranquillity: A Brief Against Feminism, which smites every leading assumption of the modern feminist movement.

The idea that women were, like blacks, the victims of decades if not centuries of discrimination, Graglia argues, is a retrospective invention cooked up to gain women a place at the affirmative action trough. It was only when affirmative action became widespread that feminists launched the discrimination argument. Before that, they had relied instead on shaming women out of motherhood and housewifery.

Citing feminist pioneers like Betty Freidan, Graglia notes that their beef was with women, not men. Why, Freidan asked in 1965, when "all professions are finally open to women in America" and with the removal of "all legal, political, economic and educational barriers that once kept woman from being man's equal," do so many women have no higher ambition than "to be a wife and mother"? Freidan's answer was that the "feminine mystique" had women trapped in an unsatisfying and infantalizing role.

Graglia, an attorney who chose to stay at home to raise her children, announces proudly that being a wife and mother was the most satisfying and fulfilling part of her life's work. "One of the greatest injustices to women," she writes, "is feminists' own success in convincing society to treat as a sacrifice what for some women can be the most rewarding occupation of their lives."

Not only has feminism succeeded in devaluing the roles of wife and mother, she says, but feminists have also rewritten history to insert victimhood where none existed. From the moment she resolved to become a lawyer in junior high school, Graglia recalls, to the time she ceased working to raise her daughters, she received nothing but help and encouragement from teachers, counselors, employers and even acquaintances. As the daughter of a working-class divorced lady, Graglia would not have been able to aim for a career in law without scholarships. At no time did her sex hold her back.

Her experience stands in sharp contrast to the treatment Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recalled of the same period. Ginsburg and Graglia were both students at Columbia Law School in the 1950s. Yet, Ginsburg, who was editor of the Law Review and tied for first in her class, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that when she graduated, "not a law firm in the city of New York bid for my employment as a lawyer."

Graglia is skeptical. When she had graduated a few years previously, also on Law Review though not first in her class, she had no trouble gaining employment at a Wall Street firm. If Ginsburg got the cold shoulder from those firms, Graglia argues, it was probably because she was Jewish, not because she was female. Anti-Jewish and anti-ethnic bias of every kind were characteristic of Wall Street law offices in those years -- which is why Jewish, Italian and other lawyers founded their own firms in mid-town. (Graglia believes, with justification, that Ginsburg must not have shopped her resume around New York. Surely, one of the less snobbish firms would have leaped at the chance to hire her. But, as the justice told the committee, she was waiting for "bids.")

Graglia writes passionately about the joys of family life, even including conjugal sex -- which is hard to square with her grandmotherly appearance. But the feminist movement, after years of unchallenged hegemony, is being attacked by those it has betrayed: women themselves.


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©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.